Dansby Swanson called up to Atlanta Braves

The Hops have officially sent their fifth former player to MLB. The Atlanta Braves announced Tuesday that they would select the contract of shortstop Dansby Swanson from the Double-A Mississippi Braves of the Southern League. Swanson famously began his professional career with the Hillsboro Hops after being selected first overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2015 MLB Draft.

Swanson’s call to the big leagues comes on the heels of four other former Hops to scale the mountaintop. Aaron Blair, Zac Curtis, Mike Freeman, Braden Shipley and now Dansby Swanson have all cracked big-league rosters.

His first game with Hillsboro came August 12th, 2015, and his first hit came on August 15th. His movement up the minor league system was rapid following an offseason trade from the Diamondbacks to the Atlanta Braves.

MLB Debut Swanson

He was assigned to Advanced-A Carolina in Atlanta’s system to start 2016 where he hit .333 in 21 games to earn a quick promotion to Double-A Mississippi. He hasn’t set the world on fire in the Southern League, but he has been a steady .260 hitter and as always, a top-notch defender at short and leader in the clubhouse.

It is particularly special for Swanson to play for the Atlanta Braves, as he is a native of Marietta, Georgia. Atlanta is out of playoff contention so it is likely that Swanson will get an extended look at shortstop.

Congratulations to you Dansby! You’ll always be #AllHoppedUp.

Tyler Mark All-Star Game Diary: Day 2

The All-Star Game turned out to be a blast (literally there were 3 home runs hit, none of them less than 375 feet). The Northwest League ended up winning 11-5 while me, Tommy and Jake ended up throwing scoreless innings so it was a successful night for the Hops Nation!

Playing with and against the best players in the two leagues was a great experience. You see so much talent and great competition that it fires you up to keep working hard to reach the Major Leagues. It was also great to play with guys that we play against during the year. Some may think it’s awkward because we play against them and all but at the end of the day we’re baseball players chasing the same dream so it sort of brings us together in a way.

Fan fest and the Home Run Derby had to be my favorite part of the All-Star Game. Before the game they sat us down at a table and had us sign autographs for 15 minutes and talk to some fans. Signing autographs means a lot to me. It’s amazing that some catscratch from a minor leaguer can brighten up someone’s day. The HR Derby was also pretty fun to watch. Gio Brusa from Salem-Keizer ended up winning it all, so pretty much next time I face him he won’t be seeing any fastballs.

Now the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the actual game!!! Before the game I was excited and anxious to just get out there and pitch. I got the usual butterflies before game time but I reminded myself that it’s just a game and have as much fun as possible. To be honest, my only goal for the game was to not give up a home run because when I give them up they’re not cheap ones. And playing in the Pioneer League the ball absolutely flies so I’m thankful I didn’t break my neck during my inning. I threw the second inning of the game and things went smooth for me.1-2-3 inning with a strikeout. That’s all I could ask for.

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Tyler Mark dealt a 1-2-3 inning in the Northwest League All-Star Game. (Jared Ravich/MLB.com)

Pitching in the game wasn’t the highlight of the night. The highlight wasn’t anything baseball related. It was a conversation with a 10 year old named Curtis in the bullpen. Curtis was this kid that loved baseball. He lives in Salt Lake City which is 45 minutes from Ogden. He told me he loves going to Ogden Raptors games because he gets a chance to talk the players and learn about them. He was a very nice kid but the guy could talk. I mean 4-5 innings long just going on and on, and for the first time in my life I think I became annoyed.

I asked him what his favorite thing about baseball was, and he gave me the most mature answer I’ve ever heard from a 10 year old. He said, “I love baseball because it teaches you how to fail. You’re going to fail in life and in the game but it’s important to never give up and keep going.” I was so shocked by his response. I remember when I was 10 and playing little league if I struck out I’d cry my eyes out and think the world was coming to an end. It’s crazy how much you can learn from people. It doesn’t matter who they are or how old they are. That moment right there tops staying in bed watching Netflix for the couple days we had off.

Going into the second half, my goal is to finish the year out strong and help bring another Northwest League Championship to Hillsboro. Thank you for reading these last couple days and stay #AllHoppedUp!

Tyler Mark All-Star Game Diary: Day 1

Hello Hops Nation! This is starting pitcher Tyler Mark reporting live from beautiful Ogden, Utah for the 2016 Northwest League-Pioneer League All-Star game!

Jake, Tommy, me and the Hops front office traveled to Ogden yesterday morning and it felt like such a long day. Jake, Tommy and I were all pooped. I’m pretty sure we mixed in a nap whenever we could. The flight was a smooth one and there weren’t any delays so everything went according to plan and that’s always great. The first half for us was a good one; we started off on a slow start but as the season progressed we started playing as a team and getting comfortable with one another and finished the first half strong. Our goal is to take that momentum from the end of the first half and keep on improving as a whole to win the second half of the season!IMG_2718

Trusting the process is a huge thing in baseball. You can never get too high or get too low. Baseball is just a game filled with ups and downs. Seeing the team start off 3-8 and finish the half strong is a perfect example of trusting the process. We didn’t let our start affect the way we were going to finish. I’ve learned to trust the process a lot more during my first full season of professional baseball. This year I started off with the Kane County Cougars, our Low-A affiliate, and I probably had the worst month possible. We’re talking 0-5 with a gazillion ERA. That first month was tough. I began to doubt myself and lose confidence. I’m not afraid to admit it because it happened and I learned from it, which is the silver lining. Failing in Kane County actually helped me become a NWL All-Star. Crazy how all that works out.

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Tyler’s All-Star coins. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Mark)

When I was selected to the All-Star team, I was very excited and proud of myself. It’s really nice to see all the hard work in the offseason and spring training finally work out. I found out I made the All-Star team when I received a text from my mom congratulating me. I still don’t know how she found out before me…to be honest she probably found out before the whole NWL. When I found out I made the All-Star team I didn’t tell anyone personally. I believe I was pitching the next day so just preparing myself for that was my main priority.

Opening day festivities were a blast in Utah. This is my first time here and it didn’t disappoint. The opening ceremony was on top of this huge mountain. We had to take a 15 minute gondola ride which was awesome and frightening at the same time. We received these awesome coins and pins for being All-Stars and the dinner was great. Still not better than Jeferson Mejia’s sandwiches that he makes in the clubhouse though. Today is the All-Star game and I can’t wait to be a part of it!! Thank you Hops nation!! #AllHoppedUp

Three Hops Named Northwest League All-Stars

The rosters for the 2016 Northwest League vs. Pioneer League All-Star Game were announced Tuesday and three members of the Hillsboro Hops were named to the Northwest League team. Relief pitchers Jake Winston and Tommy Eveld and starting pitcher Tyler Mark will represent the Hops in Ogden, Utah on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Jake Winston has become one of the most trusted arms out of Shelley Duncan’s bullpen this season. In 15 appearances this season, Winston is 1-0 with an ERA of exactly 2.00. He has struck out 19 and walked only 6 in his 18 innings of work. Northwest League hitters are managing a paltry .179 batting average against him.ALL STARS

It’s Winston’s first year in professional baseball after being drafted in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Tommy Eveld is another reliever that Duncan has turned to very often in close situations. He has appeared in 12 games, working to a 1-1 record and a 2.51 ERA. He has struck out 13 batters across 14.1 innings, issuing only three walks. Hitters have posted a batting average of .208 against Eveld this season.

“Touchdown” Tommy Eveld is in his first year of professional baseball after being drafted in the 9th round of the 2016 draft by the Diamondbacks. A former quarterback and wide receiver at the University of South Florida, Eveld switched to baseball following two major knee injuries. He has taken to the craft quickly.

Tyler Mark is the last member of the Hops named to the NWL team this season. He has been the strongest starting pitcher for Hillsboro this season, currently leading the NWL in strikeouts (47), innings pitched (45.2) and games started (8). He has a 3-2 record, and his ERA of 3.55 is fifth in the league among pitchers with enough innings to qualify.

Mark has been particularly effective when pitching at Ron Tonkin Field, holding a 2-0 record with a 0.89 ERA across 20.1 innings in Hillsboro. He is a second-year Hop after spending much of 2015 in Hillsboro. He was drafted in the 6th round out of Concordia in the 2015 draft.

Congratulations to all three of our All-Star Hops!

2013 Hop Braden Shipley to make Major League debut Monday

A banner year for former Hillsboro Hops continued Monday when Arizona Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale, announced Braden Shipley, a 2013 Hillsboro Hop, will be called up to make his major league debut on Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Shipley becomes the fourth Hop to crack a big-league roster in 2016 alone, following Aaron Blair with the Atlanta Braves, Zac Curtis with the Diamondbacks, and Mike Freeman with the Diamondbacks.MLB Debut shipley

Shipley’s promotion should come as no surprise to those who have paid attention to his gradual improvement in the minor leagues. In 19 starts this year with the Triple-A Reno Aces, Shipley is 8-5 with a 3.70 ERA. While those numbers on the surface may not appear overwhelmingly impressive, when you consider that he is doing this in the hitter’s haven of the Pacific Coast League, a major league call-up was always imminent.

The native of Medford, Oregon had a long, steady journey to the big leagues since being drafted by the D-backs in the first round of the 2013 draft. His first assignment in pro ball was with the Hillsboro Hops, where he went 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA in eight games. In 19.1 innings, he struck out 24 and walked just 6.

After Hillsboro, he was simply reliable in every stop up the minor league chain. He was consistently solid in two stints with the South Bend SilverHawks, Arizona’s former Long-A affiliate in the Midwest League, and then thrived in the California League with the Visalia Rawhide, another league that is extremely difficult to pitch in.

His prospect-hood took off in the second-half of the 2015 season when he was pitching for the Mobile BayBears of the Double-A Southern League. In 14 games (13 starts), Shipley went 6-5 with a 2.66 ERA across 84.2 innings. His strikeouts also spiked, from 50 in the first half to 68 in the second half.

Hillsboro Hops vs Spokane Indians

Shipley will become the fourth former Hop to make his ML debut when he faces Milwaukee on Monday. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

His next challenge is the final frontier. Evaluators like to see their top prospects striking out a lot of batters in the minor leagues. It shows that they have stuff to beat hitters beyond allowing opposing hitters to put the ball in play consistently. Shipley has shown flashes of strikeout potential, but will need to improve upon that to find consistent success in the big leagues. In 119.1 innings with Reno this year, he’s logged 77 strikeouts and has given up 131 hits.That shows two things: 1) the ball is being put in play against him and 2) he’s good at pitching with runners on base.

Shipley is always improving and his minor league numbers bear that out. It remains to be seen how long Shipley’s major-league assignment will be, as D-backs’ ace Zack Greinke appears close to being ready to come off of the disabled list. If Shipley pitches well however, it may leave the front office no choice but to keep him on the roster.

Congratulations Braden! We’re #AllHoppedUp for you.

First-half musings

We’re approaching the end of the first half of the Northwest League season and the Hops currently sport a record of 15-16. Claiming the first half crown would take a nearly-impossible feat as Eugene currently leads the South Division by seven games – with seven remaining in the first half. The only chance Hillsboro has to extend their four-half winning-streak would be by winning all remaining seven games in the first half, and Eugene losing all seven remaining games. But if there was one word to describe baseball, “yajustneverknow.”

Other first-half musings…

Basepath bandits: Through 31 games, the Hops have swiped 55 bases. The next closest is Eugene at 47. The main thieves: Marcus Wilson has 12 which is currently tied for the NWL individual lead, Anfernee Grier with 9, and someone you may not expect, catcher Luke Lowery with 8. Lowery stole 8 total bases in 67 games last year with Missoula, and has reached that same total in just 26 with Hillsboro in 2016.

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Marcus Wilson is going to steal that base and there’s nothing you can do about it. (Eric Cech/Hillsboro Hops)

Farewell Sergio: Fan-favorite, slick-fielding shortstop Sergio Alcantara was promoted to Kane County on July 17th. His glove will always be his best tool with an infield arm that is unmatched by any prospect in the Diamondbacks chain. The question with Sergio will always be the bat, and he laid those doubts to rest in 15 games with Hillsboro in 2016. He hit .319 in 47 at-bats with the Hops, and also managed to walk ten times in those 15 games for an on-base percentage of .441 – signs of an advanced approach. He was his normal smooth self in the field, routinely turning in plays that others can’t.

We weren’t the only ones that noticed as the Arizona developmental staff moved him up to Kane County. We’ve probably seen the last of Sergio in Hillsboro – and that’s a good thing. Congrats, Serg.

Hillsboro Hops vs. Eugene Emeralds

Sergio Alcantara is back up in Kane County. (Eric Cech/Hillsboro Hops)

The new Duck in town: With the departure of Alcantara to Kane County, Hillsboro needed a shortstop. Enter Mark Karaviotis, Arizona’s 19th round selection in the 2016 draft and an alumnus of the University of Oregon. Karaviotis missed most of his final collegiate season with a shoulder injury in 2016, but would you believe that he played at Ron Tonkin Field in 2015 when Oregon hosted Seattle University?

That’s right! On April 1, 2015 Oregon defeated Seattle 4-0 and Karaviotis went 1×4 with 2rbi as an Oregon Duck playing at Ron Tonkin Field. Now he’s a Hop, and he calls The Tonk home. Who would have thought?

On the Mark: It wouldn’t be out of the question to say that Tyler Mark has been Hillsboro’s top starting pitcher thus far, though Anfernee Benitez may like a word. While Mark has mixed in his share of clunkers, when he’s on top of this game, there’s no doubt he’s one of the best pitchers in the NWL.

But an interesting, and possibly troubling, trend has emerged with Mark on his home/road splits. Check it out:

Mark at Ron Tonkin Field: 2-0, 0.89 ERA, 3 GS, 20.1 IP, 13 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 21 K

Mark elsewhere: 0-2, 8.78 ERA, 3 GS, 13.1 IP, 22 H, 13 ER, 4 BB, 14 K

This trend is nowhere near unusual as players develop. There’s simply comfort found at home, and once Mark finds his footing on the road, he’ll be punching a ticket to Kane County.

Ni Hao: Arizona recently sent Hillsboro a new starting pitcher: Taiwanese native Wei-Chieh Huang. Here’s a pronunciation guide, and remember in Taiwan the surname comes first: “who-AHNG, way chee-ay.”

But who is he as a pitcher? Glad you asked. According to mlbpipeline.com, Huang is the #4 prospect in the entire Diamondbacks chain. Arizona signed him in 2014 out of Taiwan for a reported $450,000. He spent most of 2015 with Kane County where he went 7-3 with a 2.00 ERA in 76.2 innings. He’s down here in Hillsboro to rehab an injury, so we probably won’t have him very long. We’ll try to enjoy it while we do!

Gettin’ Chiggy: An obvious fan-favorite has emerged in the early goings in Hillsboro, and his name is Justin Chigbogu. He’s a behemoth of a man and his power prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Through July 19, Chigbogu is locked in a five-way tie for the NWL-lead in homers with four. He’s always a threat, and you get the feeling that he’s going to unleash a barrage sometime in the near future.

Parting thought: Though it’s very unlikely Hillsboro will take the first-half crown, there is ALWAYS incentive to win with how the play-off formula works in the NWL. They can make the play-offs still in two different ways. 1) they can win the second-half crown or 2) if Eugene wins the second-half title, Hillsboro would need to finish with a better full-season record than the other two teams of the NWL South: Salem-Keizer and Boise.

Keep the faith, Hops fans! Back-to-back-to-back is still in play.

17 reasons to come to a Hops game

With the 2016 Hillsboro Hops season just 17 days away, we’re here to provide you with 17 reasons to come to a game this summer. In truth there are over a million reasons, but these were the only gifs we had.

  1. The Hops are back-to-back champions. Help them make it a three-peat!

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2. Rally towels!

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3. BridgePort Brewing is back on board to keep the Long Ball Ale flowing.

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4. Shelley Duncan is back to manage.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem-Keizer Volcanoes

  5. You’ll probably see a future big-leaguer.

Hillsboro Hops vs Vancouver Canadians

6. You could see some sweet double plays.

7. The wildlife

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8. Barley is the back-to-back Mascot Champ of the Northwest League

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9. Walk-offs and group hugs

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10. You can dance like nobody’s watching

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11. Get inspired to create your own secret handshake with your co-workers

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12. Ron Tonkin Field is a great place to tune out the haters

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13. You can celebrate date night with Alexis Olmeda (or your significant other, your choice, but I won’t be the one to break Alexis’ heart)

Kisses

14. You never know if our players got a big out or made a putt to win the Masters

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15. You can meet your heroes

Hillsboro Hops vs Everett AquaSox

 

16. Because our fans are so good the players actually clap for them

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17. Because Ron Tonkin Field is the finest facility with the finest views in all the land

Hillsboro Hops vs Everett AquaSox

If you need more reasons to come, give us a call at the front office. We’d be happy to speak with you and answer any questions about why Hops games are the best thing to do during the summer.

We hope to see you all very soon! Just 17 days to go.

 

 

Catching Up

We’re about a month away from the start of the season in Hillsboro, but many former Hops are about a month and a half into their assignments at full-season teams. More than a few of our guys are off to sizzling starts at other Diamondback (or other team) affiliates. Let’s take a look at how a few are doing…

Taylor Clarke – 2015 Hop

You remember Taylor, right? He was drafted by Arizona in the third round in 2015 and he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen for the Northwest League Champion Hops. He threw 21 innings on the season and didn’t allow a single run.

Hillsboro Hops vs Salem Keizer Volcanoes

Taylor Clarke wasn’t a fun at-bat for Northwest Leaguers. (Kevin N. Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

The D-backs moved him back into a starting pitching role and sent him to Long-A Kane County of the Midwest League to break 2016. He didn’t need much time there. He threw 28.2 innings for the Cougars, working to a 2.83 ERA, generally showing that he was over-matching MWL hitters. He did allow his first professional run, but the D-backs elected not to terminate his contract. He was quickly promoted to Visalia of the Advanced-A California League.

He has two starts under his belt for the Rawhide. In his debut outing, he allowed just two earned runs through six innings. He was sent out for the seventh where he unfortunately gave up three more. In his second outing, he was through after six innings and two earned runs. In many ways, it’s the perfect combination of things for Clarke to learn. He was effective for most of the outings, with some teachable moments mixed in. He is starting to get a lot of Diamondback fans excited about what he could become in the near future.

Grant Heyman – 2014/15 Hop

Grant Heyman was a member of each of the last two championship Hops teams. He spent all of 2014 here in Washington County, and rehabbed an injury with the Hops in 2015 for the stretch run. His bat was always valuable, as was his experience in pennant chases.

He started 2016 in Kane County briefly, but was moved to Visalia very early in the season. With 31 games under his belt in the Cal League, Grant is impressing. He is beginning to display the power that his 6’4″, 220 pound frame shows. Evidence:

The bat is starting to show some serious progression. With 31 games in the books, Grant is hitting .286 with 16 runs driven in. Hitting a homer 471 feet shows that there is plenty of power potential still to be tapped into for Grant.

Zac Curtis – 2014 Hop

By now you should know what Zac Curtis has been up to this season. He saved every single Hops playoff game in 2014 and still holds nearly every record a reliever could hold for Hillsboro.

He started 2016 in Visalia of the Cal League, and while his ERA wasn’t great, he had struck out an incredible 22 batters in 10.1 innings. When Rawhide manager J.R. House (Hops ’14) called Zac into his office to tell him of a promotion, Curtis assumed it was to Double-A Mobile. Little did Zac know that his early-season performance had caught the attention of D-backs’ brass, and that his promotion was actually all the way up to the big leagues. Visalia pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru captured the moment below.

Zac has now appeared in seven major-league games logging 5.1 total innings. His performance in the big leagues has mirrored what he did in the minor leagues. He is yet to allow a run, and has struck out five batters over that frame. Major-league hitters are managing just a .118 batting average against the left-hander. He was brought up to the big leagues and has proven he is every bit of a major-leaguer.

A few other former Hops you should be watching closely…

  • Braden Shipley – He’s at Triple-A Reno and pitching very well. A definite call-up candidate this season.
  • Daniel Gibson – Currently pitching for Double-A Mobile. Has not allowed a run in 13 innings. If the D-backs’ bullpen needs a blow, Gibby will be a candidate.
  • Dansby Swanson – Following the offseason trade to the Braves, Dansby opened at Advanced-A Carolina and hit .333 in 21 games to earn a quick promotion. He is now at Double-A Mississippi and has hit .292 in his first 19 games there. He’s pretty good.
  • Aaron Blair – He famously became the first Hop to crack a big-league roster when he debuted in April for the Atlanta Braves. He was solid in his first few starts, but hit some turbulence recently. He was sent back down to Triple-A Gwinnett. A few good starts down there will get him right back onto a big-league mound.
  • Daniel Palka – Daniel was traded to the Minnesota Twins in the offseason and has performed well at Double-A Chattanooga. He’s hitting .275 with 6 homers through 38 games for the Lookouts.

Wondering about anyone else? Let us know and we’ll get you an update.

We are just one month away from the Hillsboro Hops home opener.

Zac Curtis called up to Arizona

It appears the flood gates have opened. Just a week after Aaron Blair became the first ever former Hillsboro Hop to debut in the major leagues, 2014 Hops closer Zac Curtis received his call to the show. Curtis will be the first ever former Hop to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It’s unknown just how long Curtis’ assignment will be with the Diamondbacks. The club has struggled to find reliable left-handed relieving out of the bullpen beyond the incumbent Andrew Chafin. Just last night, LHP Keith Hessler gave up three hits and three earned runs in Arizona’s 9-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

Zac Curtis is the next left-handed farmhand to get the opportunity to help stabilize the D-backs’ bullpen. He has spent all of the 2016 season pitching for the Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide. Though his ERA sits at 5.23 through his 10.1 innings in the California League, he has struck out an astonishing 22 batters in that time frame. His ability to strike batters out is undoubtedly what separated him from other left-handed relievers in the D-backs’ system. It is possible he is being called up to face primarily left-handed batters in the big leagues. Against left-handed hitters in Visalia this year, he has thrown 4 innings, allowing three hits, no runs, while striking out ten and holding hitters to a .200 batting average. Those numbers balloon to an 8.53 ERA and .310 batting average when he faces right handers.

Hillsboro Hops vs Vancouver Canadians

Zac Curtis is the second former Hop to make it to the big leagues. He will be the first Hop to become a Diamondback. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

The Diamondbacks are in the middle of a stretch in which they play 20 games in 20 days, which oftentimes leads to an overworked bullpen. Last night’s game against Colorado was the 18th in 18 days, so it’s possible Curtis’ call-up is simply to stem the tides until the team is able to get their guys some rest with an off-day coming Monday. However, if he comes up and succeeds against left-handers as he has in the minors, he could stay in Arizona.

Zac was a fan favorite here in Hillsboro. He spent all of 2014 with the Hops as the closer and was absolutely dominant. He set the team record with 14 saves, and worked to an ERA of exactly 1.00 in 27 innings. In those innings, he recorded 42 strikeouts. In his minor league career, he has struck out an incredible 139 batters in 91.1 innings.

He became famous for his performance in the 2014 Northwest League Playoffs, in which Hillsboro swept its way through Boise and Vancouver on the way to its first-ever NWL title. Curtis recorded saves in all four playoff victories.

He recorded the final out in the 2014 championship game when he fielded a bare-handed comebacker to the mound and flipped to Kevin Cron.

Congratulations, Zac! You’ve made everyone in Hillsboro proud.

Some thoughts on Aaron Blair

Editor’s note: Earlier this week, Aaron Blair became the first Hillsboro Hop to make it to the major leagues. He threw 5.1 innings and allowed three earned runs for the Atlanta Braves against the New York Mets. Hillsboro Hops president and owner Mike McMurray penned some thoughts on Aaron’s journey to the big leagues, and what set him apart from day one.

For Laura and me, one of the primary attractions of Minor League Baseball is the opportunity to watch players pursue their Major League dreams. At the Short Season A level, most do not progress all the way. But on April 24, 2016, one of our very own Hillsboro Hops did make his National League debut. Aaron Blair, from the inaugural 2013 Hops’ team, took the mound for the Atlanta Braves.

For us, it was an emotional experience. As we watched him warm-up [thank you MLB.TV!!], the memories came rushing back. Shortly after the first day of the 2013 MLB amateur draft, the Diamondbacks informed us that Aaron, the 36th overall MLB pick, could be joining the Hillsboro Hops if he signed a contract relatively soon and he had no physical problems. Based on past experience we know these are pretty big “ifs”, particularly for a college pitcher. In any event, we were pretty excited.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Aaron Blair’s major league debut came Sunday, April 24th against the New York Mets. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

About two weeks after the draft, we finally heard something definitive: Aaron had signed his contract and would arrive in Hillsboro shortly. Whenever possible, a new player coming into town is given a quick tour of Ron Tonkin Field and is introduced to the front office staff. Laura and I were lucky enough to be in the office that day to meet Aaron.

My first impression of Mr. Blair was that he was very big, something like 6’ 4” and 230 pounds, and would look menacing on a mound 60’ 6” away. But to us he was very friendly and respectful. I could tell immediately that this was a guy we wanted to have around. Of course when you get the #36 pick in the draft, you cannot expect him to stay at the Short Season A level for long.

Because several weeks had passed since he last pitched competitively for Marshall University, Aaron’s early days as a Hop were devoted to conditioning.  He spent much time on the bullpen mound under the watchful eye of pitching coach Doug Drabek getting his arm and his pitches ready for NWL action. But Aaron’s routine also involved jogging around the warning track for extended periods of time. Alas, I convinced myself that Aaron Blair and I were kindred spirits, for I too jogged around Ron Tonkin Field on a semi-regular basis. Okay, maybe I did not run as fast or as long as Aaron, but that did not matter in my mind. Imagination has no limits.

On July 5, Aaron finally made his professional debut at home. He started for the Hops against the then-powerhouse Vancouver Canadians. He allowed no runs, gave up one hit, struck out two and induced one ground-ball double play over two innings. But with a full season of college ball under his belt and no desire to risk injury to his arm, he was pulled before he qualified for the win. He had officially started on his path to the Major Leagues and had shown enough in his first stint that we knew the path to not be too long. His debut was bittersweet for us; we were happy to see his success, but also knew that it meant his time as a Hop would be short.

After appearing in eight games for the Hops, Aaron was indeed promoted. The rest is history. He progressed steadily up the minor league ranks before being traded along with fellow Hops’ alumnus Dansby Swanson to Atlanta in December, 2015. The trade was fortuitous for Aaron as it speeded his ascent to the Major Leagues. But it was a little sad for us as we wanted him to make his debut in an Arizona Diamondbacks’ uniform. However, Aaron Blair will always be a member of the Hillsboro Hops family. We are very proud that he was the first Hop to The Show.

– Mike McMurray, President, Hillsboro Hops

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